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May 01, 2012

Religious Believers Less Motivated By Compassion Than Atheists, Studies Find

Beggar in front of 770In three experiments, social scientists found that compassion consistently caused less religious people to do acts of generousity. But for highly religious people, compassion was largely unrelated to how generous they were – or were not.

Beggar in front of 770
A poor man collecting charity in front of Chabad's main international synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, Brooklyn earlier this year

Highly religious people are less motivated by compassion than are non-believers
Yasmin Anwar • UC Berkely Media Relations

“Love thy neighbor” is preached from many a pulpit. But new research from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that the highly religious are less motivated by compassion when helping a stranger than are atheists, agnostics and less religious people.

In three experiments, social scientists found that compassion consistently drove less religious people to be more generous. For highly religious people, however, compassion was largely unrelated to how generous they were, according to the findings which are published in the most recent online issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The results challenge a widespread assumption that acts of generosity and charity are largely driven by feelings of empathy and compassion, researchers said. In the study, the link between compassion and generosity was found to be stronger for those who identified as being non-religious or less religious.

“Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not,” said UC Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer, a co-author of the study. “The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns.”

Compassion is defined in the study as an emotion felt when people see the suffering of others which then motivates them to help, often at a personal risk or cost.

While the study examined the link between religion, compassion and generosity, it did not directly examine the reasons for why highly religious people are less compelled by compassion to help others. However, researchers hypothesize that deeply religious people may be more strongly guided by a sense of moral obligation than their more non-religious counterparts.

“We hypothesized that religion would change how compassion impacts generous behavior,” said study lead author Laura Saslow, who conducted the research as a doctoral student at UC Berkeley.

Saslow, who is now a postdoctoral scholar at UC San Francisco, said she was inspired to examine this question after an altruistic, nonreligious friend lamented that he had only donated to earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti after watching an emotionally stirring video of a woman being saved from the rubble, not because of a logical understanding that help was needed.

“I was interested to find that this experience – an atheist being strongly influenced by his emotions to show generosity to strangers – was replicated in three large, systematic studies,” Saslow said.

In the first experiment, researchers analyzed data from a 2004 national survey of more than 1,300 American adults. Those who agreed with such statements as “When I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel kind of protective towards them” were also more inclined to show generosity in random acts of kindness, such as loaning out belongings and offering a seat on a crowded bus or train, researchers found.

When they looked into how much compassion motivated participants to be charitable in such ways as giving money or food to a homeless person, non-believers and those who rated low in religiosity came out ahead: “These findings indicate that although compassion is associated with pro-sociality among both less religious and more religious individuals, this relationship is particularly robust for less religious individuals,” the study found.

In the second experiment, 101 American adults watched one of two brief videos, a neutral video or a heartrending one, which showed portraits of children afflicted by poverty. Next, they were each given 10 “lab dollars” and directed to give any amount of that money to a stranger. The least religious participants appeared to be motivated by the emotionally charged video to give more of their money to a stranger.

“The compassion-inducing video had a big effect on their generosity,” Willer said. “But it did not significantly change the generosity of more religious participants.”

In the final experiment, more than 200 college students were asked to report how compassionate they felt at that moment. They then played “economic trust games” in which they were given money to share – or not – with a stranger. In one round, they were told that another person playing the game had given a portion of their money to them, and that they were free to reward them by giving back some of the money, which had since doubled in amount.

Those who scored low on the religiosity scale, and high on momentary compassion, were more inclined to share their winnings with strangers than other participants in the study.

“Overall, this research suggests that although less religious people tend to be less trusted in the U.S., when feeling compassionate, they may actually be more inclined to help their fellow citizens than more religious people,” Willer said.

In addition to Saslow and Willer, other co-authors of the study are UC Berkeley psychologists Dacher Keltner, Matthew Feinberg and Paul Piff; Katharine Clark at the University of Colorado, Boulder; and Sarina Saturn at Oregon State University.

The study was funded by grants from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley’s Center for the Economics and Demography of Aging, and the Metanexus Institute.

[Hat Tip: Dr. Rofeh-Filosof.]

Comments

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If you are a poor man in need of charity, do you care why someone is helping your, or that you are being helped? In Judaism giving money to the poor is not an act of "charity" as the goyim understand it. No, it is a mitzvah, and fulfills a commandment from HaShem. Which offers the poor man taking it more dignity.

No, it is a mitzvah, and fulfills a commandment from HaShem. Which offers the poor man taking it more dignity.

Posted by: Reb Mendel | May 01, 2012 at 10:20 AM

reb mendall almost all religion have that same mitzvahs as that,
nothing unique sorry to bust your bubble


this study makes sense

an atheist does it because they want to there is no rewards after ones dies no gof looked if you do good.

But for religious people it is an obligation or another good deed added to their account when they die

I am very fond of the Jewish idea of tzedaka because with its etymology related to "righteousness", it is very close to the concept of social justice. But, to suggest that it replaces charity, with its etymological roots in the Latin caritas from carus, "dear", is like saying that giving tzedaka fulfills the mitzva of ahavat Yisroel and it clearly doesn't.

Charity is action from love of your fellow human, from compassion, from empathy. Tzedaka is a simple obligation, it is justice. You are giving money as an agent, to not do so would be like stealing.

I think, perhaps, that religious people become inured to people in need because they imagine "I am already helping through my religious obligation". It is an unintended consequence of the doctrine to which they subscribe.

Happy May Day everyone !

Happy May Day everyone !

@ Yaakov:

Great comment. Couldn't have said it better myself.

This study is misleading. While it may support the idea that the nonreligious are motivated to give to charity by different factors (i.e. compassion) than the religious, it does not support the contention that the nonreligious give more often or more generously to charitable causes.

Indeed, the data seems to support the very opposite; namely, that the religious are more generous than the nonrelgious.

See, for example:

http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/6577

"Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent) and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent)."

Yaakov: In light of what you say, it behooves all religious people to do some soul searching. I don't believe, as Paul said, that "the letter killeth and the spirit giveth life," but rote religious behaviorism is not the ideal, either.

shish:

I think that's part of the reason that the non-religious are moved to charity. They have "excess capacity" you might say. They are less likely to be giving in other circumstances, so there is some novelty in the situation that leads them to empathetic action. This is all speculation, mind you, and I personally know many extremely generous non-religious people.

Yochanan Lavive:

I think that both legalism and antinomianism are both flawed. Balance in practice is, in my opinion, the proper path. Those who tend to one or the other extremely should adopt the opposite perspective to get a sense of what they might be lacking.

I wonder how many religious Jews, if any, we're included in the study. They certainly won't find many Haredim or chassidim on college campus.

Feel free to remove either both in the first sentence of the second paragraph above, but don't remove both!

Wow! Munged tag. I must be out of it.

Carry on...

FWIW ,the 2 biggest philanthropists in the history of the world are atheists.and that means they give l'shma.
(gates and buffett)

thanks, did not know they where atheists

interesting to compare them to believers that have that type of money or close?


from this study and others we see more and more the fallacy that without religion people would be immoral

I wonder how they will explain the Ultra-Orthodox who obviously feels compassion for another Ultra Orthodox in distress, but in the same time would feel contempt or at least will brash off a non-Jew in a similar situation .

yakov


They are less likely to be giving in other circumstances, so there is some novelty in the situation that leads them to empathetic action. This is all speculation, mind you, and I personally know many extremely generous non-religious people.

why do you say that? do you have any evidence to support that claim?

maybe they give just as much or more in other circumstances

seymour:

Yes, see shish's reference. Religious people give more money to charity as a rule. That's a longstanding finding.

I am not criticizing the non-religious, nor praising the religious here. I am observing something and trying to make sense of it.

The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns.”

i'm not sure what was meant to be included in "doctrine" , i.e. because it is required doctrinally , or as a means of spreading the doctrine.
i would bet that the studies which show religious people giving more charity than non-relig. are themselves quite misleading. huge chunks of those figures are probably monies given to the church or shul, which dont serve to benefit anyone other than the members. a new building, a new paroches, a scholar in residence, etc..
even much of what is more clearly 'aid' is donated and used for the purpose of furthering the religions cause. the church has spent billions in africa over the years but it isnt doing so to help the africans. it does so to give the recipients a good feeling about catholicism so that they convert and spread the message of jesus. i'm not impressed.
subtract all giving of these types and the religious probably fall below the secular.
when bill gates gives billions to eradicate malaria or provide a better education, he has no ulterior motive governed by dogma and has no expectation of being rewarded for his deeds in a future world governed by a sky-friend.

Mormons are required to tithe ten percent of their earnings to the LSD church. It is their version of tsedoko.

If they don't give it, they are booted out into the gutter on their righteous tukheses.

Many other adherents of mind control cults ( Judaism, Islam - zakat, Christianity, and Scientologists+) make a show of giving.

However, for my money, I will take an atheist any day. They are easily the most charitable, generous and sincere people around. They give l'shem gurnisht.

Yaakov: We are in agreement. I brought in St.Paul to represent the antinomian pov, which I also reject.

APC how have you been? I have to disagree with your assumption that Warren Buffet gives charity for completely altruistic reasons. He could be giving out of a sense of guilt, or in order that he can show off to his friends, or to make his business life look more honest, or to go down in history as one of the great men that changed the world, or simply because he gets a rush of endorphins doing it, among other reasons. Or he could be completely altruistic, but who's to say

curious what you think about all the wonderful tzedakah organizations that help others in distress...bikur cholim, kupas hair, interest-free loan gemachs, tomchei shabbos, and the dozens and dozens and dozens of similar organizations...

May I suggest a further resource to learn more about empathy and compassion.
The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.
CultureOfEmpathy.com

I recommend the Rutsch website.

You can look at this study and come to the conclusion that religion helps people give charity and help others who otherwise are not inclined to feel empathy.
Actually this affirms the classic argument that you should be religious because otherwise no matter how much good you want to do you end up doing only what you consider is your own subjective good that which is culture and individual dependent empathy will only motivate people to causes that you feel a connection to as in the article the friend only felt a desire to give after seeing the emotional scenes on TV not when he heard about it. Some people may not feel the need to give to an unkempt homeless person begging on the streets but religion in its pure form trains you to give anyway and also gives spiritual explanations that allow you to see the homeless person as another human with a Godly soul like your own.
Religion should give you more of an objective view of good as long a it hasn't been distorted with to much of an emphasis on external expressions of religiosity such as clothing etc which excludes and limits our ability to do good not just keep up with others.
SOX even those that give to shuls and there own organizations are still giving to others outside themselves and even when you give to an anonymous homeless person you are helping yourself because you are reducing crime etc

Sorry SOX was meant to be APC (autocorrect mistake)

Shish, the non religious are more likely to vote for politicians that support social justice and poverty programs. I'm assuming these give more money overall than donations. This is played out very nicely when comparing the more religious and least religious states.

In other words, it is far more helpful to the needy (and also to the middle class) to have universal healthcare and food and shelter assistance than it is to ask for and receive charities.

Shalom-

I have to disagree with your assumption that Warren Buffet gives charity for completely altruistic reasons. He could be giving out of a sense of guilt, or in order that he can show off to his friends, or to make his business ...

first you have to show why you think that was my assumption. what i wrote was ..

, he has no ulterior motive governed by dogma and has no expectation of being rewarded for his deeds in a future world governed by a sky-friend.

of course he may or may not have other motives, but NONE of them is dogmatically required nor based on reward from god. its quite possible to argue that there is no such thing as pure altruism since at the very least the giver himself knows he gave and feels good about it.

Well APC, you did say earlier
"FWIW ,the 2 biggest philanthropists in the history of the world are atheists.and that means they give l'shma.
(gates and buffett)"

My understanding of the word l'shma is a good deed performed without any thought of reward, be it spiritually or materially, but perhaps you were using that term a bit looser than its strict definition

Actually this affirms the classic argument that you should be religious because otherwise no matter how much good you want to do you end up doing only what you consider is your own subjective good . Posted by: Shlomo1

riiiiiiiiight....without religion i might think its okay to save someones life on a saturday even if theyre not jewish. i might mistakenly and subjectively believe its good and moral NOT to own slaves.
luckily we have religion to teach us the REAL and OBJECTIVE truths about goodness and compassion and that its far more "good" to leave the goy to die and that its just fine to own other humans. WHEW!

if we assume as i do that there is a connection between empathy and a desire to help others, then religion is a huge hindrance. religion creates artificial differences between people, which not only lowers the empathy factor, but often leans towards outright hostility to "the others". thats why religious folk tend to do much of their giving to charities whose recipients are just like them. case in point is charedim. they and their apologists like to point to their bikkur cholim (as if non-charedim and non-jews dont also visit the sick),gemachs etc... to brag about how righteous they are. how much of their tzedakkah is aimed at non-charedim? close to zero. are there many charedi charities which give to conservative jews? secualr jews? non-jews chas v'sholom?
OTOH when a bill gates or buffett give, there seems to be no concern for the race, religion or ethnicity of the recipients. its just a question of where will the money best help humanity . so once again religion fails in its attempt to justify its existence .

My understanding of the word l'shma is a good deed performed without any thought of reward, be it spiritually or materially

theres no such thing. at the core of everything is our evolutionary instinct which might favor behavior that helps us pass on our DNA with no apparent other benefit. as you offered, i use the term in its talmudic sense. if theres no belief in a god keeping score, its l'shma.

It is my opinion that this study is a very narrow thing. It doesn't provide enough data to make any conclusions—it's just a data point about human behavior.

I also think that giving in response to religious obligation and compassion or empathy are orthogonal. It is very possible for a person who is giving her 10% according to the halacha is doing so with great feeling; for someone to give entirely as a matter of compassion with no sense of obligation, or; for someone to give purely as a matter of obligation, even grudgingly.

I personally believe that the religious obligation, in the case of the halacha, is like many things: it is there to set a lower limit on human behavior. So, it is my belief that the Torah expects empathy, that is, we should imagine "that could be me", and act accordingly. That's my own understanding of the obligation that being Jewish puts on me.

APC, that's where the talmud disagrees with you. The Jewish perspective is saying that at the very highest levels of serving G-d, one can truly do a good deed l'shma. This concept is described by the Baal Shem Tov when certain rabbis were told they had lost their share in the next world and were going to hell no matter what. I imagine it would be something along the following; a person who feels pain, and doing the good deed causes them more pain, and they are told they are going to be punished for in hell for doing it anyway, and they still choose to do good because its the right thing to do. And doing the good deed in no way makes them feel any way better physically, spiritually or emotionally than if they didn't do the good deed. That would most definitely be true altruism in my definition.

ah-pee-chorus:

I am amazed and delighted at what The Gates Foundation is doing. I think that it embodies both tzedaka and charity. When Bill Gates announced that he intended to give away almost all his money I was floored, but, it is very sensible. He won't even notice it; it won't change his own material life even a tiny bit.

I don't think it matters if Gates and Buffet are atheists, but I am not sure it is so clear that they are. This page has a summary of information that is generally available on the question.

As far as being the most generous philanthropists, I suppose that depends on how you define things. There's no question that in terms of pure magnitude it is true. But, the impact of their giving on their personal material lives is nil, so it's hard to compare to people who can't give away a huge percentage of their money and still have a billion in the bank.

I hasten to add I am not attempting to diminish their charitable work, I have enormous respect for it, and it is something I hope I would do in their position but I can't imagine what it would be like to be in that position.

Shalom:

If the person gets nothing, not even psychological satisfaction, from performing an act, they will not do it. Full stop.

It's a matter of definition. People don't do things that don't fulfill a need, even if it hurts physically or deprives them of something material, if they do it, they are getting satisfaction of some need.

The act itself is ipso facto proof of satisfaction from it.

yaakov-

both gates and buffett reject the notion of the god of the bible which makes them atheists in that regard. like many atheists they may consider it unknowable whether there is ANY superior being or beings and thus they may also refer to themselves as agnostic. as you know, the terms arent mutually exclusive since they operate on separate scales. certainly neither would be considered 'theists'.
i agree that on a percentage basis there have undoubtedly been larger givers, but in raw numbers my claim is true. it doesnt prove anything, but is important as a response to those who make many erroneous claims about atheists vs. religious theists. to many, its a huge unwanted surprise.
the vaticans wealth is estimated at $15B and the main beneficiaries seem to be victims of priestly sex abuse. another chunk is used to spread jesus belief. i wonder how much goes towards really helping people, with no expectation of furthering their cause?
incidentally, zuckerburg-a self claimed atheist-has also joined the billionaires club by agreeing to give away all but a billion.

The frumma do other nice deeds besides the money giving. They have this group called Friendship circle which encompasses young people hanging out with seniors but they also get time to themselves. There are paralells in both. It is important to be charitable with words and friendship as well, possibly more important overall.

And one thing that we don't see the depths of depravity in vicious behavior we see in secular public schools by the kids themselves. we have seen many kids killed or driven to suicide. As bad as things are in the frum world it is still not to that level. I am speaking of the kids themselves.

I think religion is a human need in and of itself, without any resort to justifications, such as it promotes charity. Atheists sometimes get their religious fix by connecting with nature, art, science, etc. And some people are, as William James put it, religious non-musical. But for most people, like me, there is that need. (This doesn't prove or disprove any particular religion, or even that God exists or doesn't exist).

Shish, the non religious are more likely to vote for politicians that support social justice and poverty programs. I'm assuming these give more money overall than donations.

Posted by: mimi | May 01, 2012 at 06:28 PM

Sure, that's possible, though I'm skeptical whether democratic administrations invest more in poverty programs, etc...need some evidence for this

FWIW ,the 2 biggest philanthropists in the history of the world are atheists.and that means they give l'shma.
(gates and buffett)

Posted by: ah-pee-chorus | May 01, 2012 at 12:29 PM

APC- we have to be careful using arguments such as this, because the flip side is religious people saying "Stalin killed more people than anyone else, and he was an atheist".
True, but Stalin also had a mustache. But he didn't mass-murder in the name of his mustache any more than in the name of atheism. He was just plain nasty!

In a similar vein, Warren B's and Bill G's philanthropy doesn't necessarily prove that it's because of their atheism, even though they are both atheists.

In addition- what difference does it make whether someone gives money to, say, the Tsunami Relief Fund out of (1) compassion or (2) religious obligation?

The end result is the same; money towards tsunami relief. I don't think the International Red Cross gives a shit about your internal motives.

"Sure, that's possible, though I'm skeptical whether democratic administrations invest more in poverty programs, etc...need some evidence for this"

Are you serious?Here it is for Veterans, the strongest social justice program "promoted" by Republicans

http://iavaaction.org/report-card/a_team_d_list

Are you serious?

Posted by: mimi | May 02, 2012 at 12:57 PM

Yes, I am serious. Can you believe it?!?!?! Someone is actually asking for EVIDENCE that democratic administrations are more charitable than republican ones!!! Shocking!!

Thanks for sending me a completely irrelevant link...

Brian, Stalin was not an atheist. The reason Stalinist Russia gets brought up as a "counterpoint" (actually, it is a tu quoque fallacy, but whatever) to arguments about the depravity of organized religion that focus on events like the crusades is that it was an atheist state.

The US, by contrast, while appearing to be a secular, even atheist state, in fact engages in what is termed "ceremonial Deism". Betcha didn't know our country is Deist, did you? ;-) This is why certain official functions, publications, buildings, oh yeah, COINS, can invoke "God" in a generic sense even though the Constitution explicitly forbids the establishment of a state religion.

I'm sure any TRUE religionist would be outraged by the taking of the Lord's name in vain on MONEY, but when I increase the gain on my audio amplifier all I hear is static and ... could that be ... crickets?

shish,

mimi did not mention a political party. There are a lot of regional differences and personal differences within the same national parties. However, to mention the one invokes its opposite, and the national Republican party seems to be in love with the Ryan plan, which would gut programs that vulnerable elderly people depend upon, such as social security and Medicare. I think it's pretty clear which national party has a better record on these issues, even if individual politicians are better or worse.

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